Recovery was slow. Like bang my head against a wall slow. That blasted NG tube was still in, and turning left or right would cause it to snag against my nose, irritating me or waking me up, making sleep difficult.
My husband stayed like a guardian by my side. When one nurse couldn’t place my IV after several tries, he asked her to get a different nurse to do it. Things got a bit heated and she made him leave the room. When she finally did place my IV she told me “See? It’s because he was standing in here making me nervous.” If I aware enough at the time, I would have told her off. He’s been watching me go through this and doesn’t want me to experience more pain than I have to. And it is protocol to find another nurse after the 3rd try, which was his argument.
As they reduced the drugs, my awareness returned, and with it, a mental struggle. Fortunately, my track days prepared me. To run distance, one must endure pain and continue running, faster, if possible. I took this hospital stay with the same attitude, now that I was awake. I asked my surgeons and nurses many questions, determining the factors that would help me get out of the hospital and well again.
First order of business was a picc line (IV placed in a major vein) and TPN (nutrition given through IV). My husband accompanied me to the waiting room. When radiology took me back, he told the nurses to take good care of me.
They placed my bed next to a taller, metal table, and told me to get on it. I paused. Were they going to help me? Apparently not, so I struggled to lift my own body, my abdomen screaming at me. As I floundered there, they eventually helped me up. I lay on the cold table, shivering. They told me to lay flat with my back touching the metal. Well, I had been used to sitting slightly up in my bed, making it difficult for my stomach muscles to stretch, especially after being cut (they made an incision down my abdomen during emergency surgery). I tried, but it wasn’t enough. The nurse kept on me until I did it, and the whole time it was painful.
As they prepped, they talked about how they couldn’t wait to leave for the day. I guess I was their last appointment. They placed stickers all over me, and told me to raise my left arm and turn my head. With the NG tube in, it was difficult, and they didn’t slack the line for me, so it had to tug the entire time. Once the line was placed, they started taking the stickers off. The nurse groped under my gown without looking, her fingers closing over a staple.
“That’s a staple,” I moaned.
“No it’s not, it’s a sticker (lack of the proper term fails me).”
“No it’s a staple.”
“It doesn’t feel like a staple.”
All the while her hand was still over it. I was afraid she was going to rip the staple out. I started to panic.
“It’s a staple! It’s a staple! Don’t pull on it!”
I don’t remember if she looked to verify or not, but enough yelling from me got her to let it go. I sighed in relief.
After setting up TPN, the next order of business was walking. In order for the heparin shots to stop, the NG tube to come out, and for me to eventually go home, I had to walk. The worst part was getting out of bed. My doctor taught me to hook my arms under my knees and roll up instead of clenching my abs to stand. My walks were short at first- around the room only. Then I would venture into the hall. When I could finally do a full lap on the hospital floor, I felt triumphant! The doctors discussed taking out my NG tube, but first they would have to clamp it.
My mom and I watched the entire show The Kennedys during that week. I went stir crazy. I was too sick to read or write, which is a travesty! But I grew bored with TV. And I could only walk so much. And of course I didn’t feel well.
I had some fantastic friends who helped out immensely. Our friend Carrie would come sit with me and help pass the time, giving my mom a break from playing nurse. Michael had to go back to work. I remember hanging with her during the clamp trials. One minute we would be chatting, the next I would be puking. I felt embarrassed, but she was so sweet and understanding. I also received a lot of support on facebook. Friends I hadn’t heard from in years sent me messages stating they were glad I was alive and to hang in there. People sent me cards; my room was covered in flowers; it was amazing to see how sweet and thoughtful people can be!
Finally I passed the clamp trials, and the tube was taken out! I literally cried from joy afterward. I swung my head gleefully to the left and right, relishing the freedom of movement.
My next task was to start eating. After not eating for 10 days, the stomach shrinks. Food did not sit with me. I also had to take pain medicine orally, which meant I had to wait for it to kick in. Those were some miserable days. Finally I bargained with the doctors. I was walking multiple laps around the halls, forcing myself to eat at least bites and drink ensures. I promised that if they discharged me, I would eat. They didn’t want me to leave unable to eat full meals yet, but I guaranteed to supplement with protein shakes.
With my doctors on board, the final phase was to teach me how to change my ostomy and take out my staples. I looked down at my cherry pink stoma. I did NOT want to touch that! But it also meant going home…I dove in and got dirty, learning how to cut the pieces, place the glue, and put the new bag on. Kudos to anyone who lives with a pouch. It is not easy!
The resident, the same one who told me everything would be ok, came in to take out my staples. He graciously had the nurses up my pain medicine dosage beforehand. I asked him if it was going to hurt.
“Yup, I’m just going to yank them right out!”
I stared at him, mouth ajar and eyes wide with fear. He began to chuckle. My pulse slowed. The guy was just trying to make a joke! I had forgotten what jokes were like. Wow. And no it didn’t hurt, thanks to the medicine. It pretty much tickled.
Michael came to get me. I had been in the hospital for 16 days. While I experience a bit of a break in my own bedroom, it would be less than a week until I would come back in…